Hey, geeks. What’s happening? Today we’re going to talk about one of my favorite pastimes and how that’s changed — and how people’s perception of me has changed even when the pastime itself did not. Let’s talk video games.
I’ve been playing video games since I was old enough to hold a controller. I distinctly remember playing on my father’s NES before school in kindergarten. I am not ashamed to admit that Star Trek was the first game I beat in its entirety. I later had different consoles and handheld gaming devices as the technology and I advanced. My wall of console games eventually morphed into an external hard drive of data on my souped-up PC. Video games have been a part of my life for almost as long as that life has been a thing.
And up until recently, I never thought that was controversial.
Then, about four years ago, I started hearing things like “Fake Geek Girl” at cons and “Oh shit, it’s a chick!” on live feeds. Other women started referring to me as a feminist and applauding me for taking a stand in a male-dominated industry. I started getting told to do way worse than “make a sandwich” during live games. (Seriously. Really, really terrible things. And seemingly out of nowhere.)
What the hell, video game world? How dare you take my favorite pastime and vagina and threaten to ruin them both simultaneously? Who does that?
As usual, I found the slimy underbelly of a sick and pustular online movement over on 4chan. Disgusting people hiding behind even more disgusting usernames had gathered around a single hashtag and were using it as a battlehorn for likeminded assholes and a battering ram all at once. Gamergate was already sending out ripples that would affect me in ways I never expected.
Of course, I had known beforehand that dickheads like this had long-since infested (and helped build) my favorite industry. Hell, I’d recognized it since the first time I’d noticed that my high-level female character had somehow gone from sporting modest chainmail to stylized tassels and a g-string. I’d grown up with an understanding that this would probably happen on the rare occasions where I got to play a female at all, and I’d come to terms with it. I was never really happy about it, but I also used video games to escape political infighting, not add to it by squabbling over some pixelized breasts that bounced in weird ways when my character moved.
But then Gamergate wormed its way into everything I tried to do or play. The harassment that had always been present but at least avoidable was suddenly everywhere. Misogynists were unified and loud. They were everywhere. In everything. What’s a girl to do against that kind of animosity?
Obviously, I took a stand. So, the pissants thought they were powerful because they suddenly had friends screaming the same thing they were? They didn’t know they were going against an army that had always been there.
My battle-heavy games became much more nuanced fights. For the first time, every shot fired was not only to protect my pixelated character’s life and my ever-increasing overall Gamerscore, but a screamed defiance that “I have a right to be here!” Mods started coming out where I could cover all of my character’s body parts with full plate and metaphorical “fuck-you’s.” My friends lists continued to grow with both men and women from all over the world. I started getting messages about assholes that were particularly terrible, and asking if I wanted to help humble them a bit. And I did.
My femininity became noteworthy for the first time in my life of gaming, and it was an asset. A strong and clear reminder that we are here. We always will be. And you do not frighten us.
Girls, I don’t care why you game, but statistics show that you probably do. Maybe you do it so you can spend more time with your significant other. Maybe you like the power that comes from geeky girl fetishes and boob plate. If that’s the case, all the power to you. I use video games to release stress or piss off misogynistic assholes in my downtime, you use them to find fulfillment in other ways. Knock yourself out. Put those g-strings and tassels on your character and flounce with pride. But when those dark and vitriol-filled slanders come over your live feed instead of the flirtations or intrigue you were hoping for, hold that head up and shoot yourself out of that mess, okay? You’ve got this, lollipop_gurl06.
You have the right to be here, too. And so will our daughters. Don’t forget that for a minute.
Tahani Nelson is a “Geek of All Trades.” She’s dabbled in pretty much everything, but holds a special place in her heart (and schedule) for video and tabletop games. Other interests include attending Renaissance Faires and Cons in full dress, practicing calligraphy, writing fantasy novels, discussing comparative philosophy and morality, and apparently listening with a blank smile on her face anytime someone tries to convince her that Magic: The Gathering is as much fun as D&D.